Five Thousand Balloons

Apparently, we have something of a balloon problem here in the United States, which is a sentence I never thought I’d write. Such a statement, however, would not have surprised founding father Benjamin Franklin who was suitably impressed on November 21, 1783 when he witnessed French brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier use a hot air balloon to send the first human being into the air.

I don’t know. There’s just
something about this balloon
that feels ominous. Darth_vader_hot_air_balloon.jpg: Tomas Castelazoderivative work: Jebulon, CC BY-SA 3.0
licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It was only nine days later Franklin again observed a balloon rising into the air, only this time with the use of hydrogen, which he referred to as “inflammable air.” That turned out to be somewhat of a misnomer, but at the time it seemed like a really good idea.

It also occurred to Franklin that such balloons could have some remarkably useful military applications. Only a month or so later, he wrote to Dutch scientist Jan Ingenhousz that five thousand balloons manned by two men each would be an awfully cost-effective way to wage war and would be difficult for any nation to defend against.

Balloons haven’t been used to quite the great effect that Franklin predicted, but over the years they have been used, primarily as a way to gather intelligence. Surveillance balloons played a small role in the French Revolution.  And they played a larger role in the American Civil War when civilian Thaddeus Lowe earned the title of “most shot-at-man in the war” while relaying information about Confederate troop movements to the Union from aloft.

Balloons were involved in aspects of both World War I and World War II, and even drifted with cameras over the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, without much success, in the mid-1950s. So, I guess maybe it shouldn’t be so much of a surprise that China might send one drifting over the United States in 2023. At least Benjamin Franklin probably wouldn’t have thought so. 

I mean for all we know, we could be headed for a mass extinction event, like the giant balloon that took out the dinosaurs. Image by Greg McMahan from Pixabay

In the past few weeks, the US has now shot down four balloons, possibly only of one of which was allowed to complete its entire mission first. That’s the only one that as of this posting the public has much information about, though I heard the president may be set to address the nation about it today. I’m sure that will clear things right up.

As much as our media and social media governmental complaints have been preoccupied by this slow, floaty invasion or whatever it is, I can kind of see Franklin’s point. Five thousand balloons would be an awful lot to deal with. If nothing else, the balloons have attacked and directed the attention of the American people.

I’ve even heard it postulated that the three balloons that followed the first might be extraterrestrial in origin. And frankly, it’s about time someone put that possibility out there, because if it’s any indication of what is to come, I have it on good authority that five thousand balloons, each manned by two aliens, would be a pretty cost-effective way to wage war and would be difficult to defend against.